NDP MP Leah Gazan rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NDP MP Leah Gazan rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NDP calls on Ottawa to recognize residential schools as genocide

MP wants institutions acknowledged as the deliberate, systematic destruction of a cultural group

New Democrats are calling on the federal government to recognize the residential schools policy pursued by Canada for over a century as genocide against Indigenous Peoples.

In a motion to be tabled in the House of Commonson Thursday, NDP MP Leah Gazan is asking fellow lawmakers to unanimously acknowledge the institutions’ history as the deliberate, systematic destruction of a cultural group.

“There is no reconciliation without truth. And what happened in residential school was clearly an act of genocide, with impacts that reverberate (in) our families’ community today,” said Gazan, MP for Winnipeg Centre and a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Saskatchewan.

“In honour of all the children who never returned home, in honour of all the mothers and fathers and families that were left to suffer in grief, we must end the debate.”

Gazan’s demand comes in response to last month’s news that ground-penetrating radar detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

The government-sponsored, church-run institutions operated in Canada for more than 110 years and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ruled in 2015 they constituted a “cultural genocide.”

Gazan questioned the sufficiency of the commission’s determination, laid out in a report that followed seven years of hearings and testimony from thousands of witnesses.

“There is no legal definition in international law for cultural genocide. What happened at the residential schools was genocide, full stop,” she said, citing the United Nations convention against genocide.

Genocide comprises any one of the criteria laid out in the 1948 convention’s definition, and Gazan said Canada’s residential schools policy meets all five: killing members of a group, causing them serious physical or mental harm, placing them under conditions to destroy them, imposing measures to prevent births or forcibly transferring children to another group.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Liberals “will look at the wording of the motion.”

She noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week he accepts the conclusion of the 2019 inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that “what happened amounts to genocide.”

At a news conference with Gazan on Wednesday morning, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said denying an act of genocide would “belittle the history and the reality” of survivors of schools that continued to open into the 1970s.

“Residential school is not a historic thing that happened hundreds of years ago. It happened just yesterday,” he said. “My younger siblings attended residential school.”

Christian churches and the federal government launched the boarding schools in the 1880s and kept them going for more than a century, seeking to convert and assimilate Indigenous children, who suffered widespread physical and sexual abuse at the institutions. Thousands died in them.

The last one closed in Punnichy, Sask., in 1996.

A third-generation survivor, Dumas said churches also need to atone for their role. “I am very disappointed with the stance of the church for their silence.”

On Sunday in Rome, the Pope expressed his pain over the recent discovery by the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation of the unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. But many Indigenous leaders have stated their disappointment and frustration over Pope Francis’s remarks, saying they fall short of an apology for the Catholic Church’s key part in the policy.

“Old wounds opened up. Our nation woke up,” said Gerry Shingoose, an elder and survivor who attended the Muscowequan Residential School in Saskatchewan for a decade starting in the early 1960s.

“I ask that each one of you bring that love forward to the survivors and their families, because when we were in school we never received that love. We received hate,” she said. “And no child should ever experience that.”

A vote on Gazan’s motion, which requires unanimous consent to pass, is expected Thursday.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

—Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

Federal PoliticsIndigenousresidential schools

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

Most Read